The School Board in Fairbanks will be working on plans to fully return children to school next month at a worksession tonight (Tuesday). No votes will be taken, and the board may choose not to implement plans that do not conform to CDC guidelines or the state’s “Smart Start” pandemic protocols issued in August.
The Fairbanks North Star Borough School District has carefully surveyed families about their schooling during the pandemic. Those surveys have shaped the remote learning practice now in place. They also inform the phase-in plan that lets a handful of special needs learners and students with poor internet service be in classrooms right now as COVID-19 cases are surging in Alaska.
But some board members say surveys don’t reveal enough about how many students would actually return to in-person schooling if given the chance.
"We will know how many students want to attend in a brick and mortar school when we give them the latitude to do so."
That’s Matthew Sampson, one of the Board of Education members who think the phase-in plan is not going fast enough. He is looking for options to have all kids return to school building for in-person learning during the pandemic.
"When our conversation revolves around the concept that only when it is super safe, and only when we have all the answers to possible staffing issues, can our children then resume receiving what they undoubtedly deserve. When this is how we frame the conversation, I can tell that we’ve already failed them."
Last week, the board looked at a plan to expand the phase-in for next semester, increasing the number of kids in school buildings. But the plans presented by the administration are constrained by state and CDC guidelines you know all about - keeping people six feet apart, wearing masks, sanitizing surfaces and frequent hand-washing. Those guidelines limit how many humans can be in a room. In most classrooms, no more than 15 kids.
So, board members who want a Full return, asked for a plan that doesn’t necessarily follow the guidelines. Those plans are on the agenda for tonight’s worksession.
"I can tell you that I have not even bothered to look over those plans. Those are more recommendations from the administration, but it’s time for the board to come up with a plan."
The plans on the worksession agenda look like normal school. The middle school plan for example, allows for about two dozen students in a room, with kids mixing with a new group each class period, and as many as 200 students during lunchtime.
It assumes families would be comfortable with the close human interaction. But that’s a problem for schools on Fort Wainwright and Eielson Air Force Base. Crawford, Anderson and Ladd Elementary, Tanana Middle, and Ben Eielson Jr. Senior High School all pull students and staff members from military families, who are restricted by federal pandemic protocols.
That is probably not going to get all worked out in the plan that goes before the public. There are way too many details there and we’ll have to work that the administration will have to work that out as this ball gets rolling rolling, if this ball gets rolling.
To not do something because we are scared to act on an outcome that we don’t have the facts on, is moronic."
The worksession begins at 6:00 p.m. tonight.